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Pacers fire Bjorkgren as coach after one season

Nate Bjorkgren

INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Pritchard hired Nate Bjorkgren to take the Indiana Pacers in a new direction.

They wound up going the wrong way.

After struggling defensively, missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and amid reports of locker room drama, the Pacers pulled the plug Wednesday when Pritchard, their president of basketball operations, fired Bjorkgren — a Storm Lake native — as coach after just one season.

“The 2020-21 season was not what any of us hoped or anticipated it would be, and our results on the court certainly did not meet the standards for what our organization and our fans have come to expect,” Pritchard said in a statement.

Indiana went 34-38, finishing the season with an embarrassing 142-115 loss to Washington in the play-in tournament. The Pacers also produced their first losing season at home in 32 years, and at times the effort didn’t appear to be there, either.

A rash of injuries was part of the problem. Indiana’s top scorer in 2019-20, T.J. Warren, suffered a season-ending foot injury after just four games. NBA blocks champion Myles Turner went down with a season-ending foot injury on April 18. And after trading two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo for swingman Caris LeVert in January, LeVert missed the next 24 games after team doctors found a cancerous growth on his left kidney.

“I’ve never really seen anything like it,” potential free agent Doug McDermott said. “I think part of it had to do with the schedule. A lot of games, not a lot of days off. I think we had eight games in 12 days to finish the season.”

But the more tumultuous part of Bjorkgren’s brief tenure came outside the lines.

While Warren publicly disputed a report that he didn’t want to play for the coach following the season finale, other concerns spilled into the open. Warren also played for Bjorkgren when he was an assistant in Phoenix.

The injured Turner helped break up a spat between his replacement, Goga Bitadze, and assistant coach Greg Foster during a game in early May. Bitadze was fined and Foster was suspended for one game.

And Pritchard said players used the word “micromanaged” during interviews after their season ended.

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